The Coming World Prophet Revelation 13:11–18
Jesus predicted that many false Christs and prophets would appear in the last days. The two beasts mentioned in Revelation 13 are the final unveiling of Jesus’ prophecy that will take place during the Great Tribulation. The first beast is the world political ruler popularly identified as the Antichrist (13:1–10). The second beast is a religious leader identified as the false prophet (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). This article focuses on the second beast.
John wrote, “And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth” (v. 11). The word another (Gr., allo) means another of the same kind. He will possess the same kind of nature, character, power, and ferocity as the first beast but will function in a supporting role as the false religious prophet.
Three phrases in verse 11 describe the second beast. First, he will come “up out of the earth.” Some interpret the word earth as referring to Israel. They reason that because the first beast rising from the sea is identified as a Gentile, the second beast coming out of the earth must be a Jewish prophet from Israel. This is highly unlikely because he will promote the satanic program of the dragon and the first beast who will try to annihilate the Jewish people (12:13–17). Nothing is revealed in Scripture about his ethnicity or racial identity. Second, “he had two horns like a lamb.” In Scripture, horns indicate power and ruling authority. Thus, his appearance will be a counterfeit (imitation) of Christ. Christ as a Lamb (5:6) had seven horns; the false prophet has only two horns, indicating that he has less power. He appears lamb-like—defenseless and mild-natured, as was Christ at His first coming. But he will actually be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, ready to devour all who will not obey his commands. Third, “he spoke like a dragon.” Although docile in appearance, his speech will be subtle, seductive, and satanic, structured to lead people away from belief in Christ and into the cunning, corrupt worship of the Antichrist.* His word will be law, and those who defy it will pay with their lives.
Some commentators try to identify the second beast as the Antichrist because of his lamb-like qualities, his appearance, and his miracle-working power—all of which imitate Christ. The two horns, they claim, suggest that the false prophet is both the Antichrist and the world religious leader who will consolidate apostate Catholicism and Protestantism under his ecclesiastical leadership as head of the apostate church. This claim cannot be substantiated in light of Scripture. Clearly the first beast is the Antichrist, and the false prophet is subservient to him. The second beast is identified as a prophet, not a leader of the one-world church. Although he will convince or coerce the unbelieving world to worship the Antichrist through his miracle-working power, there is no direct indication that he is the ecclesiastical head of the one-world church or the Pope of Rome.
Satan will infuse the second beast with the same great authority he will give to the first beast. “And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast” (v. 12). The word exerciseth (Gr., poieo) appears eight times in verses 12 to 18 and means to do, to cause, to make. By exercising great power, the false prophet will consolidate worldwide religion, economy, and commerce (vv. 13–17) under his control. Notice the chain of authority: The first beast will promote Satan’s desire for worldwide domination and worship. The second beast will promote the first beast’s desire for the same through the manifestation of “great wonders” (v. 13).
Through the manifestation of those “great wonders,” the false prophet will use satanic deception (2 Th. 2:9–11) to lead unsaved humans to worship the first beast and his idolatrous image as God (2 Th. 2:4). His miraculous healing of the first beast from its “deadly wound” (v. 12) will help persuade humans to worship the beast. This will not include the remnant of Jewish people who will flee into the wilderness to escape the Antichrist’s wrath (12:13–17) nor true Gentile believers.
Some commentators see an analogy in this pseudoreligious system imitating the triune God: the dragon (Satan) representing God the Father, the first beast (Antichrist) representing Jesus Christ the Son, and the second beast representing the Holy Spirit.
The false prophet will possess supernatural power from Satan, which he will use to function as a miracle worker. “And he doeth great wonders [lit., signs], so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (v. 13). This miracle will not be like those of the Egyptian magicians (Ex. 7:11–12) or Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9–12), who used trickery. It will be like that of Elijah, who called down fire from heaven during his confrontation with the prophets of Baal (1 Ki. 18:38–39). Satan, working through the false prophet, may try to imitate the miracle of the two prophets who used fire from their mouths to devour their enemies (11:5), especially if Elijah is one of those two prophets. Satan was behind the fire sent from heaven to destroy Job’s sheep (Job. 1:16), although those who reported the incident said it was from God. Satan has limited power and can only perform the miracles that God will allow.
So convincing will be the miracle-working power of the false prophet that he “deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast” (v. 14). The unsaved world will be completely and continually captivated by his miraculous power, signs, and lying wonders. Jesus warned that these signs and wonders will be so compelling “that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Mt. 24:24).
The unsaved world will be duped into constructing “an image to the beast, that had the wound by a sword, and did live” (v. 14). Dr. John Walvoord provides a plausible explanation of this phrase. “The beast is both the empire and its ruler. As ruler he is the symbol of the empire and the executor of its power. Though the wound by the sword apparently refers to the decline of the historic Roman Empire and its revival is indicated by the expression ‘did live,’ the man who serves at the head of the empire is the symbol of this miraculous restoration…The image is the center of the false worship and the focal point of the final state of apostasy, the acme of the idolatry which has been the false religion of so many generations.”*
The image erected by the people will seem to take on life: “And he [the false prophet] hath power [lit., was given power] to give life unto the image” (v. 15). Commentators are divided on whether this image actually will have life or only the appearance of life. Some believe that God will allow the false prophet to give life to the image because of its ability to speak and cause the death of those not worshiping it. Others believe that the word life (lit., breath or spirit) refers only to an appearance of life, similar to a computerized figure, and not life itself. It has been documented that trickery, magic, and ventriloquism were used in the first century to gain a following and worship by pseudoreligionists (Acts 13:6–12; 16:16; 19:13–20). Such trickery would not be needed today. Through computer science, the image could be programmed to perform lifelike functions so convincing that people would respond in worship. Not much is told about this image—whether its power will be natural or supernatural, how long it will appear to have life, or other characteristics it will possess. The image will demand the death of everyone who will not worship it (v. 15). Many true believers will refuse to worship it and will pay with their lives (7:9, 14; 20:4). A similar progression occurred when Nebuchadnezzar erected an image of gold and demanded all people to bow in worship or be killed in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:1–7).
The false prophet will reorganize the world’s population under the Antichrist’s control. “And he causeth all…to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads” (v. 16). Notice, “all” (except believers, 20:4) will receive an identifying mark as a sign of allegiance, regardless of their social standing (“small and great”), substance (“rich and poor”), or status (“free and enslaved”) (v. 16). What is the mark? Scripture does not say, but many speculative answers have been presented. The word mark (Gr., charagma) was used in the first century. It referred to the imprint from an imperial seal of the Roman Empire bearing the name and date of the emperor and used on official documents or coins. It seems that this mark is a visible brand or tattoo signifying ownership, loyalty, and protection—similar to that given to soldiers, slaves, and those who worshiped the emperor in the first century.* Just as the 144,000 Jewish believers will be sealed indicating God’s protection (7:4), those who worship the beast will receive an identifying mark.
Through this mark the false prophet will regulate the economy and commerce, not only in the revived Roman Empire, but worldwide. “And…no man might buy or sell, except he that had the mark” (v. 17). With the opening of the third seal, much of the world’s population (excluding the wealthy) will have trouble acquiring food for survival (6:5–6). During the second half of the Tribulation, survival will be almost impossible without the beast’s mark. “The name of the beast, or the number of his name” (v. 17) is in apposition with “the mark.” In other words, the name, whether written in letters or numbers, is the same as “the mark.”
To understand the mark, one must be able to properly calculate the number 666, “for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred three score and six” (v. 18). Ancient peoples, such as the Jews, Greeks, and Romans, assigned numbers to the letters of their alphabet (called gematria in Hebrew). Thus, one could supposedly take the letters of a person’s name, add up the numerical equivalent, and determine if it came to 666. Past attempts to identify the Antichrist have not yielded any positive results, and the same is true today.
Speculation on the meaning of this number and whom it identifies has been endless throughout church history. The following theories, among others, have been advanced: a Roman emperor, such as Nero; a future Roman Pope; a resurrected Judas or Hitler; the number symbolizes humankind, which falls short of perfection (seven is the number of perfection, six is the number of man displaying man’s imperfection); a symbolic representation of the satanic system of the world in opposition to God’s people; an unholy trinity of Satan, the Antichrist, and the false prophet; a future man who will not be recognized until the time of the Tribulation.
The last interpretation seems most probable for two reasons. First, John wrote, “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast” (v. 18). It seems that the wisdom and understanding needed to identify the beast will not be given until the time of the Tribulation. No generation has yet been able to properly identify the Antichrist. Second, and more important, the church will not need the wisdom or understanding to identify the Antichrist because it will be raptured before the Tribulation begins.
John has revealed a pervasive satanic system that will control the world during the Great Tribulation. Discerning believers are acutely aware that seeds of this movement are being sown today and could blossom in the very near future. Jesus not only warned of pseudochrists and prophets but admonished us to “Take heed that no man deceive you” (Mt. 24:4). In other words, beware of the times so that you will not be led into deception. We must take this warning seriously and admonish others to do likewise.